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HP CIO Ellen Jackowski Explains Why ESG Is Essential to Corporate Sustainability

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Over the past couple of years, environmental, social and governance (ESG) and sustainability have become a critical part of the conversation surrounding corporate strategy. Companies have taken action and raised expectations of bringing together different aspects of ESG under a comprehensive approach. The competitive race on ESG has seen ever-increasing commitment but has missed focus and alignment. Leaders have been left confused, with many missing a much-needed understanding of what ESG is, and where they should go next. 


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As a company, has established a strong record of leadership in sustainability in ESG, and Ellen Jackowski has been its architect. As HP’s Chief Impact Officer and Head of Sustainable Impact, she’s led the company to Climate Disclosure Project’s A-List for five years, with the company actually accomplishing its carbon-reduction goals. Her work on corporate responsibility, impact and integrating different dimensions of sustainability has earned her many honors, including having been named one of the “25 Badass Women Shaping Climate Action” by GreenBiz. I spoke to Ellen about how companies can leverage their ESG-related efforts and programs to accomplish their goals in a way that supports their overall strategy. 

Related: Why ESG Conscious Companies are Resilient Companies

How do you think companies can take ESG from a commitment to actually working strategically?

ESG has always been a core value that’s central to HP. From the very first days of the company, our founders, Bill Hewlett and David Packard, created a list of eight corporate objectives. While revenue and profit were clearly among them, so too was the term “global citizenship.” Since then, we’ve modernized our language and call it sustainable impact. But even back then, they had the foresight and understanding of the corporation’s role and its responsibility to society.

These values have evolved and deepened within HP and they continue to strengthen. We’ve tried to assure it is a priority by always thinking about our materiality matrix, asking, “What is most important to our company and where can we make the biggest impact on society? What do our stakeholders care about most?” By stakeholders, we don’t mean just investors or customers, but also our employees and the communities we serve. We work to think holistically about those answers and our company’s role in making a difference. We’ve crafted our sustainable impact strategy to hit the mark of what is most relevant to us and where we can make the biggest impact. 

I think that’s what is really important for everyone to think about in the corporate space. What capabilities are you bringing to society? What expertise? What tools? And how can those tools be leveraged for the betterment of society? At HP we have three pillars of focus: The first is about climate change. HP produces printers and PCs, but also sells printing and computing services, 3D printing, as well as an emerging healthcare business. That represents a significant carbon footprint. Between our print business and making printers through which paper flows every day, we know we need to take urgent action to drive towards a more regenerative . We recognize that we have an inextricable relationship with forests, so we focus on ensuring that we’re thinking holistically and doing everything we can to regenerate them.

Our second pillar is human rights. In this area we work to create a culture of diversity, equity and inclusion inside our own company as well as across our . That includes empowering workers in our supply chain. 

And our third pillar is focused on digital equity, which is particularly important right now. To that end, we’ve just launched our new accelerator with Aspen Institute. As a company that makes PCs and printers, digital equity is core to who we are. PCs are essential to — we saw that more than ever during the pandemic. When we think about our education business and how we can help drive digital equity there as well as increase access to healthcare through our emerging healthcare business, we’re creating economic opportunity for all, including the most historically marginalized groups. That’s where we’re really focused right now, and it’s more than a check-writing exercise. We’ve crafted a strategy based on who we are as a company and where the biggest issues in society are so we can make the biggest impact.

You say that sustainability has been integral to HP from the very beginning. What does that look like from an organizational perspective? Who is involved and how do you coordinate ESG activities?

At HP, it starts at the very top. Our entire leadership team is on board with this focus, and our board cares more than ever about this topic. They receive quarterly updates on our activities, and our CEO actually met with President Biden at the White House about the Build Back Better initiative. He is incredibly supportive and has published our internal strategy centered on sustainable impact. It’s at our core. We’ve set a very ambitious agenda to hit clear goals in each of the three pillars I mentioned. 

In our corporate structure, every direct report to the CEO has an expert who has been tasked with driving sustainable impact within their part of the organization. Whether it’s our PC business, our print business, finance, marketing, corporate affairs or human resources, each one has leaders and plans in place that align with the goals we’ve set.

We’ve also set a digital equity goal that will accelerate digital equity for 150 million people by 2030, and the accelerator we’re launching in February is a key part of that. It’s led by my team but truly involves every single part of the company. 

Related: The Growth of Sustainable Investing

Given that HP’s governance structure works, and its roles and responsibilities are aligned in a way that enables action, what keeps you up at night? Are there any parts of your strategy that are not where you want them to be? What is the next level?

In terms of what keeps me up at night, it’s all about digital equity. The pandemic opened our eyes to problems that have existed for a very long time and that are only getting worse. Half of the world’s population is still offline, particularly marginalized and underrepresented communities. They’re the ones that bear the brunt of disconnection. 

Our partnership with Aspen Institute will launch a pilot initiative to provide mentorship and funding opportunities to nonprofits focused on advancing digital equity. I’m truly excited about this, but what’s keeping me up at night is making sure that it launches, that it drives the impact we’re hoping for, and that we hit our goal of accelerating digital equity for 150 million people. It’s a big number, so we’re spending a lot of time thinking it through. 

In the first year, we’ll be piloting it in the U.S., India, and Morocco, and that will expand year-over-year on the way to hitting that goal by 2030. We want to accurately quantify our progress and make sure we’re as transparent in our accounting as we have been in climate and in human rights. We report on our progress authentically and clearly every year in our annual sustainable impact report. The point is to deliver real impact. It’s not just having a big goal. 

As for the next level, we are systemically changing the culture at HP to align with our sustainable impact strategy. One way we’re ensuring it is truly permeating the organization is through the performance system we introduced last year. Every one of our 53,000 HP employees is encouraged to set a sustainable impact performance management goal for themselves within their job role. It’s a fundamental shift to empowering every single employee.

HP is the rare organization where sustainability has been part of the strategy from the very beginning. Is such alignment critical? Are there ways for others to catch up? 

As to whether it is important, I’m going to share the volume of new we’ve determined are due in part to our actions on sustainable impact. The number is $3.5 billion. That’s up from over a billion dollars last year and a little bit over a billion dollars the year before. To go from a billion dollars to $3.5 billion this year shows that the trend is only going up. From a simple business point of view, it is absolutely essential. Customers are tuned into this. They feel the impact of climate change. They feel the impact of the digital divide. They’re looking to purchase from companies that share their values, and for us, it’s a sales differentiator. We’re winning in the market because of our actions. 

Our numbers should be a clear wake up call for any company that’s not focused on this right now. It’s a way to differentiate yourself. Not only is becoming a sustainable, equitable company a way to win business, but if you don’t, you’re going to lose your customer base. 

Continuing as we are as a human society is clearly not sustainable. We’ve all felt the pressure. I live in Northern California, where wildfires are starting earlier in the season, and they’re harsher and last longer. Wherever you are in the world, you have your own local example of climate change’s impact or of the digital divide affecting your community. If our children can’t access education, it creates a very concerning future for all of us.

What do you think is the key is to changing corporate culture, not only toward setting and achieving goals but also increasing transparency? 

There are a couple of keys to that equation. One is to set the vision that you’re aiming for, both as a company and across the value chain. At HP, we have an incredible program called Amplify Impact, where we’ve taken our sustainable impact strategy across all three pillars and have engaged our channel partners to help drive change across our whole industry. This is where we disclose, publicly for the first time, that Sustainable Impact helped the company to win more than $3.5 billion in new sales in fiscal year 21. We understand that HP isn’t going to solve the problems alone. Setting a clear vision and aligning everyone towards it is essential.

The second is to clearly empower people to be a part of the solution. It’s hugely motivating. No matter what job you’re in, whether at HP or anywhere else, you can have an impact on these issues. For example, at HP, our personal systems team is designing the next generation of PCs from a digital divide point of view, thinking about the lower economic strata and adding accessibility features so the disabled can compute with equality and equity. We spend a lot of time thinking across each of our three pillars and how each of HP’s leaders can encourage their employees to be part of the solution. Hitting big goals is going to take everybody.

We’ve covered a lot of ground. What is next for HP?

I just want to speak a bit more about our digital equity accelerator partnership with Aspen Institute and how we selected Aspen. As has been true in some of our other programs, where we’ve partnered on forests with World Wildlife Fund or with Conservation International, we’re going to where the experts are. We recognize what we contribute to the solution but also know that we can’t do it alone, and that means creating partnerships with experts. We’re really proud of what we’ve been able to build. It’s a shared opportunity and a shared responsibility. I think it’s important for others to think about who can contribute, and who can be part of the solution? We’re thrilled with the progress we’ve made, but we’re looking ahead and see that there’s still plenty left to do. 

Related: Why ESG Reporting Could Be Your Company’s Next Winning Move


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